"And now, the next!": A Retrospective of Karl Lagerfeld
With so many emotions rumbling underneath these four short words, this last testament echoed from the mouth of Silvia Venturini Fendi, the last Fendi still working at the beloved fashion house, at the finale of the Fall 2019 Fendi ready-to-wear collection. Chanel, too, for which he was more well known echoed a short four word phrase that captured the essence of what he stood for: “The Beat Goes on”! Both a tribute to the past and a call to the future, these words, “And now, the next!”, evoked the legacy of Karl Lagerfeld, who at the end of every collection would repeat these words, and served as a declaration that Fendi would continue to move forward alongside Lagerfeld’s ideals of freedom and modernity. Like those four words, the entire show served as homage to Karl Lagerfeld, who had passed away on February 19th at the age of 85 just two days before his last Fendi show. He had served as a creative director for Fendi for over 50 years. All on the runway, models walked with the hallmarks of Lagerfeld’s look: short ponytails, large tinted glasses, and high starched collars. Meanwhile, a soundtrack detailing Lagerfeld’s very own life story played in the background, starting with Lou Reed and John Cale’s “Small Town” and culminating in David Bowie’s “Heroes”, reflecting his growth from a child from a small town in Germany to a global icon revered by the world.
Born in Hamburg in 1933, Lagerfeld’s love of the visual arts began early. He often told interviewers that he learned more visiting the Kunstahlle Hamburg museum and from French artists than he ever had in school. He would later graduate from a Parisian school, majoring in drawing and history, but his beginnings in Fashion came in 1955 after he won the International Wool Secretariat’s coat design competition alongside his soon-to-be friend and rival Yves Saint Laurent, who won the dress competition. From there, his seventy-year revolution in fashion began. His creative genius, lack of sentimentality, and appetite for the modern would drive one of the most prolific careers in fashion to date. These ideals drove the fashion house Fendi to hire him in 1967 to modernize their fur line, where his groundbreaking designs, intense curiosity for the future, and ruthless drive to pursue the new-brought great success to his collections. After becoming their creative director in the 1980s, he also breathed life into Chanel’s Fashion division, which was left in a decade of decline since the death of Coco Chanel. He left a trailblazing legacy for all designers around him, revolutionizing ready-to-wear as we know it by raising its status through new reinterpretations of Chanel’s heritage in fashion and increased accessibility and later paving the way for collaborations with fast-fashion giants like H&M. He would constantly push boundaries with his designs and ideas on fashion. He left behind a remarkable irreplaceable legacy of 70 years, marked by longevity and modernity.
Chanel, too, paid homage to that remarkable legacy on March 5th , for their 2019 Fall Winter collection, following his 36 years of service as their creative director. In a show, as solemn as it was beautiful, a collection of Karl Lagerfeld’s many muses came out to either walk one last time for him or witness his show for the last time. In a scenic view of a snowy mountain, Cara Delavigne, his long-time friend and muse, opened the show in a wide-legged trouser suit with long, checked tweed coats. Muse after muse walked, each holding in them close memories of Lagerfeld, who elevated them to the heights of modeling. Cara Delavigne, Kaia Gerber, Adut Akech, and even the actress Penelope Cruz to name a few all walked the stage, portraying Lagerfeld’s poised and eccentric mind for the last time, before another of his muses, Luna Bijl, closed the show. And in a stunning parallel to the Fendi show, “Heroes” by David Bowie once again permeated the room, capturing the iconic status that Lagerfeld held. In that show, we saw tradition once again reinterpreted into a frivolous projection of modernity all the while complemented by Lagerfeld’s own vision of femininity for his women’s ready-to-wear collection. In the audience, too, there were many who were at one point involved in Lagerfeld’s great vision: previous models, actresses, and long-time friends. By the end of the show, the past, present and future that Lagerfeld built were on display for all to see, as the models walked away holding back tears and as the audience stood with applause for the memory of Karl Lagerfeld.
Even now, with the end of his era, he still leaves his mark in his wake. Taking over for him at Chanel is his right-hand and his left hand, Virginia Viard, a move that pushes for the future as he hands over his mantle to a female creative director in an industry where even in womenswear there is a much greater ratio of male creative directors, a striking fact. The new team will build on the foundations and legacies he has laid, but they are a shift to the future as the new guard takes on the work of the old guard. Lagerfeld’s era has come to a close. “And now, the next!”